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City of Thieves

(original cover)
(American cover)
(reissue cover)
(American reissue cover)
Series: Fighting Fantasy #5
Fighting Fantasy Reissues (Series 1) #5
Fighting Fantasy Reissues (Series 2) #6
Contained In: Fighting Fantasy Box Set 2 (Collection)
Fighting Fantasy Box Set 3 (Collection)
Fighting Fantasy Gamebox 2 (Collection)
Translated Into: A cidade dos ladrões (Portuguese)
A cidade dos ladrões (Portuguese)
La Cité des voleurs (French)
La ciudad de los ladrones (Spanish)
Gradat na kradcite [Градът на крадците] (Bulgarian)
Město zlodějů (Czech)
Die Stadt der Diebe (German)
Tjuvarnas stad (Swedish)
Tolvajok városa (Hungarian)
Touzoku-toshi [盗賊都市] (Japanese)
Tyvenes by (Danish)
Varkaiden kaupunki (Finnish)
Adapted Into: City of Thieves (Digital Gamebook)
City of Thieves (Merchandise Item)
Author: Livingstone, Ian
Illustrators: McCaig, Iain (original artwork)
Corben, Richard (American cover)
McKenna, Martin (reissue cover)
Release Dates: September, 1983 (original)
July, 1984 (American edition)
August, 2002 (reissue)
June, 2004 (American reissue)
February, 2010 (series 2 reissue)
ISBNs: 0140316450 / 9780140316452 (original)
0440913748 / 9780440913740 (American edition)
074348701X / 9780743487016 (American reissue)
184046397X / 9781840463972 (reissue)
Length:400 sections
Number of Endings:10 instant failures, 1 victory, plus death by Stamina loss or bad Luck.
User Summary: While visiting the town of Silverton you get involved in a quest to lift a curse by defeating the evil Zanbar Bone. Unfortunately, in order to learn how to destroy the fiend, you must seek the advice of an old wizard who lives in the dangerous and crime-infested Port Blacksand.
Demian's Thoughts: In terms of setting and story, this is probably the deepest book in the series thus far. There's still not a whole lot to it, but the book's basic scenario is set up in a fairly lengthy introduction (complete with actual dialogue!) and the setting of Port Blacksand is fairly believable and consistent (though for a town of despicable thieves, there seem to be an awful lot of honest, friendly people about). This decent text is further enhanced by some of the best illustrations since the first book in the series (though I'm not very impressed by Zanbar Bone's appearance, especially on the covers).

The gameplay aspect of the book is also fairly strong. This is, I suspect, the earliest "scavenger hunt" gamebook involving a quest to gather all manner of weird thingies needed to achieve some goal (Castle of Lost Souls, the adventure serialized in White Dwarf magazine and later reprinted as part of the Golden Dragon series, is another notable example). The satisfaction inherent in finding each essential item tends to make this sort of book especially fun, and the prospect of finding new goodies in unexplored nooks and crannies makes replaying after death fairly tolerable. The challenge of successfully managing your money adds further interest, and, as usual, careful mapping is essential! My biggest complaint is the fact that the endgame segment (after you leave Port Blacksand) is a bit too hard, with the challenging combats and guessing games being more annoying than exciting at such a late point in the adventure.

Of course, the limitations of the gamebook format are made obvious from time to time, detracting from the quality of the gameplay -- as in Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there are times where you have to head in direction X, grab an item, then backtrack in direction Y and move on. If you head in direction Y to begin with, you miss the crucial item and are doomed to failure. As before, this really points out the linearity of the adventure and serves mainly to frustrate the reader.

Speaking of frustrating the reader, I did find that the book overstays its welcome a little bit. There is a great sense of relief at successfully completing the Port Blacksand section of the book, and this is spoiled somewhat by an overly difficult endgame sequence. First there's a really, really tough fight, then there's a new trap-filled area to explore, and finally there's a 66% chance of losing the adventure at the last possible instant due to a choice that depends solely on luck. I don't mind challenge, but this is simply unfair!

Although far from perfect, the book manages to overcome its flaws. The story has a unique enough flavor to be memorable, the challenge level is high enough to require thought but low enough to avoid being impossibly frustrating (except during the ludicrous endgame), and the illustrations nicely complement everything else. If you need a fix of classic Fighting Fantasy, you really can't go too far wrong here.

More reviews by Demian

Kveto's Thoughts: (Based upon the Czech translation)

This is a popular book, the original city-crawl from Fighting Fantasy. I'm not a huge fan. The mission is fairly generic, lacking even the small bit of character that Island of the Lizard King held. You are supposed to collect items to defeat the evil pirate type guy, Zanbar Bone. But I can appreciate that this was very original when it first came out.

It's really just a McGuffin quest. It took me several times to get through it. While the challenges aren't that hard, it's very easy to miss a single item. Basically if you get to the final troll guards and don't have all the items and don't have a unicorn tattooed on your forehead (don't ask why) you are done.

The book feels anti-climatic when you leave the city for Bone's lair, and it contains some instant deaths which feel unfair that late in the adventure.

The artwork is top notch.

More reviews by Kveto

utfanatic's Thoughts: Ahhh, City of Thieves, one of my favorites from childhood. This, along with a few other early FF books, was really resonant. After rereading it, I can recall why. This could have been a fantastic gamebook, but as it stands, it's merely good, with flaws.

Livingstone actually does a satisfactory job of building a little backstory and setting the stage. His writing tends to be rushed, sparse, and sorely lacking in real description. Upon arrival in Port Blacksand, I'm ready to be immersed in this amazing seaside city. I wanted to be told of all the sights, sounds, and smells. This is done in a very cursory manner, but I did not feel enveloped in the world or the city. This is a shame. I think this locale could have really been a gem.

This being Ian, the GAME really is put into this gamebook, and off you go, choosing paths, finding objects, and taking your chances guessing who is good and who is bad. While a few choices "make sense" one should generally check one's logic at the door since many choices are based purely on luck.

However, there are some incredibly memorable encounters in this book, the Serpent Queen, the Inn, the Bays playing Bays' ball, the locksmith, the troll guards, and on and on. I think a big part of this is the truly exemplary and outstanding artwork in this original American edition by Iain McCaig. Kudos. Without his work, the book would not be the same.

For me, Livingstone's style and execution works much better here in City of Thieves than it did in Forest of Doom. The random, unconnected, myriad encounters seem to "fit" better in a city of the ilk of Port Blacksand than in a forest. There is more verisimilitude here. He seems to have captured the essence of what encounters would be like in a true "City of Thieves," and despite the dearth of written description, the art here is far better than in Forest of Doom, truly helping you to feel as if you are there in Port Blacksand and can almost taste the debauchery. One of my favorite scenes is the central market, where you can visit various stalls and play games or buy sundry items.

The basic premise of the story is interesting enough and works to propel the character along. You must find Nicodemus, collect items, and fight battles. I found it incredibly easy to survive with initial skill of 10, stamina 19, luck 12. I ended up with skill of 14, sta 19, luck 15. There are multiple opportunities to heal and raise your skill and luck.

Initially, choices are divergent and consequential. At points, choice devolves into simply choosing paths, but that is overcome by the occasional ability to backtrack as well as the myriad paths you can travel, all filled with interesting encounters, places, and people. However, occasionally, the author will choose your path for you, instructing you that you have "chosen to go north" or some such. After all, this being Ian, if you have passed up an opportunity to find an item, he'll be damned if you are going to have another chance!

Few issues: Entry 364, you are forced to pay for information about Nicodemus' whereabouts which you may have already discovered by this point.

Entry 171: you come to the end of a street at a quay and are given the choice to board a vessel, or walk up the street, but not to enter the incredible looking tavern mentioned in the text and pictured as well.

Entry 63: when you are under the elf's trance, you get to pick the 2 items the elf takes from your pack.... can we say iron spike and copper scorpion? Silly that you get to choose such paltry items to be thieved from yourself, pure silliness.

Entry 249: fighting the Serpent Queen and her "poisonous fangs" which poison is SO potent that.... it has no effect. That's right, you can fight 3 foot long snakes earlier in the adventure and if they hit you, it's 4 STA lost, but with the Serpent Queen, nada.

Entry 354, you can sell an item here, the copper scorpion brooch, which you have been told is cursed to lower your CS. Your character isn't supposed to know this, but you do, so why wouldn't you sell this for 10 GP? You aren't told you can't remove it.

And finally, why would the Zanbar Bone have so many items helpful to your cause lying around his tower waiting to be used against him? We are supposed to be thankful, I guess, that the author has provided these tools so that we may complete the quest and win the game! For me, this decreases verisimilitude and the sense of immersion in the world. As well, in the final scene, your success is dependent on... you guessed it, pure luck. Ahhh, but this is Ian, and this is after all a GAMEbook... right? I suppose it's a matter of priorities: having the game flow from the story, or having the story flow from the game. I prefer the former.

Despite these lapses, the adventure is generally an exciting one with nice pacing, flavorable encounters, and an interesting locale, augmented by truly superior art, but having rushed and spartan writing lacking in immersion and descriptive narrative.

Rating 1-10: 6.5

More reviews by utfanatic

Errata:The heading on the page containing sections 342 and 343 actually reads "342-243" in the two British copies of the book that I own. The problem is corrected in the American reprint, which is interesting, since American editions of British gamebooks often contain the same errors as their British counterparts.
Special Thanks:Thanks to Ben Nelson for the dragon logo cover scan.
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